On hiring (developers)

First off, we’re hiring. You should apply. Even if you don’t apply, check out the spec. This post will make more sense if you do, and I’d love it if you were to forward it to anyone you know who would fit.

We’ve yet to see if it will produce the right results, but one interesting thing has emerged from writing this job spec is that we’ve not done it as a collective. It’s largely been my doing, with editorial feedback from the rest of the team.

There are a couple consequences of this. Some good, some bad, some still in a superposition of the two.

we’re looking to hire someone who can do this job better than me

The part of it I especially liked is that the way the job requirements (both in the spec and as we’re viewing it) is that we’re looking at the person who currently is doing / would do the job and saying “You need to do the job better than him”. We’ve done this a bit less formally previously when hiring our new sysadmin, and it just sortof emerged naturally this time as a result of the fact that I was the one pushing the hardest to get this job spec done and posted. Whatever happens, I would very much want to retain this aspect of the process: Pick a person in the company who would do the job if you don’t hire for this role, make them responsible for speccing out the job and make them the primary decision maker on whether the person gets hired – other people get to veto, but they’re the one doing the initial approval by saying “Yes, I would rather have this job done by this candidate than done by (a perfect clone of) me”. I think this is very much the right way to do it.

15 years of BBQML

The fact that I wrote it brings with it a certain authorial style. This is both good and bad. If you’re reading this blog you probably are familiar with that style by now – whimsical, fairly abrasive and decidedly non-traditional. All of that comes through in the job posting.

Personally, I think that’s ok. Everyone in the company seems to have liked the posting (Well, they laughed. That’s good, right?), so enjoying the style is probably a good sign of a compatible personality. On the other hand it may turn out to be a bad thing – it may scare off some people who would actually work well for the role (I have at least one friend who is giving me a hard time because he thinks the posting is unprofessional and makes me sound like a wanker), on the other hand it may attract too many people who self-describe as rockstar ninja cyborg artist programmers.

If it turns out not to work, I will modify my style for postings in future, but I am hopeful.

we don’t want yet another [REDACTED]

The biggest feature of this posting that may or may not work in our favour is its honesty. It’s very much “This is who we are, this is what we’re looking for”. There are some tensions you can see behind it as a result. Will they scare people off? I hope not. As a company, we’re very much not perfect. No one is, and if you expect the company you’re applying to to be perfect then you’re in for a bit of a shock whomever they are. I hope that being up front about this is a good thing, and a nice departure from the whitewashed corporate-speak you get in a lot of job postings.


All in all, it’s been an interesting experiment. I look forward to seeing the results.

Let me know what you think.

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10 thoughts on “On hiring (developers)

  1. Martin Velez

    David, I read this article hoping to get some tips on what people doing the hiring are thinking but I honestly could not extract any valuable information from this post. It sounds a lot like an inside joke.

    Fortunately, I am an “all around clever person” and followed the job posting link. It’s hilarious! Thumbs up!

  2. david Post author

    Martin: Hmm. that’s not good. The post is definitely a bit “thinking out loud”, and was written in a bit of a hurry, but I didn’t actually intend it to be uninformative.

    It’s very much on a specific hiring event rather than a general policy, so perhaps the title is rather misleading.

    Did you have any questions you wanted to ask?

    (And thanks! Glad you liked the job posting)

  3. Richard Barrell

    The phrase “yet another slightly ADD software developer” seems a little bit inflammatory, and not entirely clear. Please could you elaborate on exactly what you mean by this, and what behaviours this personality trait correlates with which you would prefer not to have to deal with? Latest-big-fad chasing, poor time management, or do you actually mean clinical ADD and all of the symptoms that go with it? The latter would seem a little harsh, given that I’ve met one or two very likable and productive programmers who live with ADD and work hard to keep their symptoms under control. Or do you mean something else?

  4. david Post author

    The meaning of the “Yet another” here is that it’s a personality trait that we’ve got rather over represented in the current dev team – we’ve got a bunch of very good people who have rather short attention spans (me included!). We would very much like not to continue this trend, and need some slightly more reliable characters to balance it out.

    Without talking to someone who has actual clinical ADD it would be hard to say whether or not we’d want to hire them for this role – my guess is probably not, but it’s entirely possible that their coping mechanisms are sufficiently good to more than prepare them for the job.

  5. Graham Bleach

    My worry about the ADD reference is that it could be illegal under UK discrimination legislation. I am far from an expert on this, so I’d get someone who knows UK employment law to check it, if you haven’t already.

  6. david Post author

    I would be surprised if it were – when you’re hiring for a job the most important features are a person’s capability to do it, and mental disabilities are definitely possible factors, but you’re right that it would be a good idea to check. Thanks.

    For what it’s worth, for purposes of clarification: We will not discriminate on the presence of actual clinical ADD. Feel free to not tell us if you have it if you think it’s an issue. However, the job *does* require a certain ability to focus on a task and stick with it (more so than average for a dev role, although not to a silly degree), so you will need to convince us that you can just as much as any other candidate would.

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  8. Michael Chermside

    What did I think of it? I thought that I’d better save a bookmark to it, filed both under “hiring” and also under “funny”.

    The hiring process (from job posting all the way through resume, interview and offer) is a 2-way street. The employer is evaluating the applicant and the applicant is trying to evaluate the employer. This particular posting does an excellent job of describing the social atmosphere of the work environment, and that is quite useful in getting a “good fit”. And “good fit” is every bit as important as raw technical skill… probably more so.

    Until the last line (“15 years of experience with…”) I thought it was good. After reading that line I reconsidered: it is brilliant.

    Too bad I don’t have the right skillset or geographical location.

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